September 18, 2014
No show no go
At a time when a potential institutional crisis is brewing with the court saga of Vice-President Amado Boudou, the opposition also did their bit to undermine institutions by walking out on Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich’s punctual appearance in Congress on the first Wednesday of June. For a full decade opposition deputies have insistently complained about the contempt of all Cabinet chiefs for these monthly reports to Congress — not only the previous incumbent Juan Manuel Abal Medina (perhaps the most infrequent of them all) but also both surnamed Fernández while Sergio Massa showed up just once in almost a year in the post (although on that occasion he defended many positions he would criticize now, including the then recently defeated sliding scale for grain export duties). And now that Congress finally has a Cabinet chief who shows up conscientiously at the start of every month, most (if not all) of the opposition have no better idea than to shun him.
Those boycotting last Wednesday’s session sought to justify their absence by harping on Capitanich’s refusal to accept follow-up questions. But while their reluctance to repeat exposure to last month’s virtual monologue of 11 hours might be understandable in human terms, it is inexcusable in institutional terms. Capitanich’s only constitutional obligation (under the 1994 reform of the charter) is to deliver a monthly progress report to Congress and then take questions — there is nothing forcing him to field follow-up questions which all too often are aimed at wrongfooting the government rather than obtaining genuine information and which in any case are far too numerous for a single session (the 120 or so opposition deputies submit hundreds of questions between them and could easily present thousands). While it could also be argued that Capitanich equally tends to be selective in offering genuine information despite the extraordinary length of his presentations, he is at least complying with the formalities — can the absent opposition deputies say the same when they were elected to represent alternative views?
The opposition rightly criticizes the various abuses of an ultra-presidential democracy such as the excess of emergency decrees, using an automatic majority in Congress to rubberstamp legislation and the growing infrequency of any Congress sessions since the ruling party regained the majority to deny quorum but if the government is more or less guilty as charged of disrespect towards parliamentary institutions, what is the opposition doing to earn any respect?